Combining Public Service
and Private Practice
Philip J. Perry '90 is an example of a lawyer who combines a strong obligation to do public service in the government with a pragmatic need to work in the private sector.
In fact, he might do well to buy his own moving van. His seventeen-year career involves no less than four different stints with law firm Latham and Watkins in Washington, D.C., as well as four different positions in the federal government.
Mr. Perry is currently a partner with Latham and Watkins. He practices commercial litigation and federal administrative law, and these two practice areas consume most of his time. Recently, he has been asked to chair the firm's public policy practice group. "It will never be a traditional K Street lobbying practice," he notes, "but instead a government solutions practice, bringing together national security and a number of federal agency practices with litigation, regulatory, and even legislative solutions. We will often practice in federal courts, but sometimes in administrative or other fora."
Mr. Perry was born in San Diego, California, raised Lutheran in Palo Alto and elsewhere in the state, and received an undergraduate degree in English from Colorado College in 1986. Mr. Perry's father is a former naval officer and professor of economics and his sister is an investment banker. His wife, Elizabeth Cheney, served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department until summer 2006.
Mr. Perry feels that Cornell Law School prepared him very well. He chose Cornell based on its reputation, the quality of the training, and the setting. But what he remembers best is class with Professor Robert S. Summers. "It was the single best training opportunity I had in all of law school," he notes. "[In it], you would be asked to stand up and present your brief each day. He forced you to understand not only a piece of oral advocacy but also what it means to apply the law, analyze a set of facts, present your case, and render effective advice. The day to day education in that class was astounding-you actually learned to be a lawyer from sitting in Professor Summers's class."
Prior to February 2007, Mr. Perry served for two years as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While at DHS, he was joined by Gus P. Coldebella '94, current acting general counsel, and Julie L. Myers '94, assistant sectretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At DHS, Mr. Perry supervised 1,500 lawyers. He's particularly proud of his accomplishments surrounding work on domestic terrorist intelligence, the transit of people and cargo, comprehensive immigration reform, and critical infrastructure such as chemical plants. "In the last two years, we have become much more precise, accurate, and effective in identifying those people that pose a significant threat," says Mr. Perry. "The department has changed dramatically since Secretary Chertoff arrived. We accomplished a lot in ways that are not going to be evident in the news."
Previously, Mr. Perry held a number of positions in the federal government. In 1997- 98, he was counsel to the U.S. Senate hearings on campaign finance abuses in the 1996 presidential campaign. In 2001, he joined the Department of Justice and was named the acting associate attorney general, as which he oversaw the department's five civil litigating divisions and advised the attorney general and the White House.
He also drafted regulations for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. In his book about the process, 9/11 Fund special master Kenneth Feinberg calls Mr. Perry "a first-rate lawyer" who was "quiet but determined."
Mr. Perry began serving as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2002. There, he oversaw White House clearance of federal regulations, mediated interagency disputes, addressed matters on the Justice Department's civil litigation docket, formulated presidential executive orders, developed several White House policy initiatives, and advised the president. "OMB is just an incredibly fun place," says Mr. Perry, "and you develop a regulatory expertise if you didn't have it when you got there."
Mr. Perry also has participated in the political process. He was on the team led by his wife preparing for the 2000 vice-presidential debates, and he served as a policy advisor for the Bush-Cheney presidential transition team.
Along with extremely busy careers, the Perrys also have a full home life, with five children- Katherine, thirteen; Elizabeth, nine; Grace, seven; Philip, two; and Richard, not yet a year old. "I work a lot," says Mr. Perry, "but every minute I have free I go home to play with my kids." While his crammed schedule makes it difficult to see as much of them as he would like-he really wishes he could coach their sports teams or catch more Washington Nationals games with them-he has managed to carve out special family time. The family attends Presbyterian services, an important time for them all to be together. And in 2003, he drove across the country with Kate, then eight, and Elizabeth, then five, a month-long experience that inspired his mother-in-law, Lynne Cheney, to write her children's book Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America.
"I think it's important to serve the country, and I will take every opportunity when I have the means to do so," says Mr. Perry. However, government work, though "exhilarating" to him, involves long hours for relatively low pay, and he acknowledges this as the downside. Each time he moves from private practice to the government, he is compelled to give up his partnership and sever all his financial ties.